Scholarship spurs Syrian refugee to study science

A Syrian refugee-turned-scientist has taken advantage of a life-changing scholarship and is now conducting research on the brain and working in regional Queensland.

Simon Issa, who escaped Syria a decade ago, is a clinical measurement scientist at Queensland Health in the town of Mackay.

The medical science graduate also has a role with Neurosciences Queensland where among his duties he uses a critical diagnostic tool to identify and help manage epilepsy.

"As a refugee, I came to Australia with absolutely no money on me.  My family had just come straight out of war, and we had to sell everything we owned to get here. We didn't have enough to cover my education," he said.

"When my parents found out about the scholarship, they were so proud - I could see it in my father’s eyes. He had been so upset when I couldn't go to school as a refugee in Lebanon."

With the support of the scholarship, from insurance company Allianz Australia and resettlement agency Settlement Services International, in 2016 Mr Issa pursued undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in medical science.

Thirty-four more refugee and asylum-seeking students were awarded the latest round of scholarships on Thursday, coming from 15 different cultural backgrounds including Burmese, Congolese, Ezidi, Syrian and Ukrainian.

Without a permanent visa they are charged international student fees, about three times more than domestic students pay.

Earlier in July, the Albanese government hiked international student visa application fees from $710 to $1600 in a bid to curb migration and crack down on dodgy colleges.

The settlement agency's chief executive Violet Roumeliotis said the partnership with Allianz demonstrates a shared commitment to empowering and supporting newly arrived communities to realise their full potential as they deal with the rising cost of living.

The program has awarded more than 280 refugee education scholarships worth over $700,000 since 2016, in a program Allianz says can help people as well as the economy.

"We have seen how helping (students of refugee background) gain local qualifications hugely benefits these deserving people and can also help alleviate Australia's national skills shortage,” Allianz Australia's chief financial officer Nathan Fink said.

A report published in June by Deloitte and Settlement Services International found Australia can unlock $9 billion each year in economic activity by fully harnessing the skills and education levels of refugees and migrants.

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